Christopher Buckley’s encomium to his parents, socialite Pat Buckley and intellectual conservative author William F. Buckley, Jr., should be mandatory reading for those of us riding the caboose of the baby boom with aging parents in their twilight years. It is, by and large, a book about death; about the deaths of two parents within one year, and one man’s brave passage through their decline and passing with grief and good humor. While the details of their public lives are interesting, Chris spends more time in the sick rooms, the ICUs, and the funeral homes than he does on memory lane recounting the past glories of two lives lived large.
He’s taken heat for this book – the letters to the editor of the Sunday New York Times Magazine, some reviews at Amazon.com … yet I disagree. This memoir doesn’t leverage the fame of two (to leverage the over-leveraged cliché) larger-than-life personas, but it does reveal some details that others might be uncomfortable sharing in public about their own parents. I see courage where others might see exploitation.
The book made me think, a lot, about the passing of my own father my senior year of college in a car accident, and how that surprise left me beached and bereft of words for nearly a decade. I realize, now, as my eldest son is 22, that I have somehow managed to “outlive” my father, and have surpassed his shortened record by a few years, leaving me — in some strange way — without an old man to model and compare myself to as I roll into my days as a future old man. Chris Buckley, as an only son, wishes at one point that he could turn to an older sister and say, “There, it’s your turn now.” But there is no one but him, and he faithfully puts in his time, coming out of the process with nothing less than the best book about parents and their children, life and death, that I have read.
Disclaimer: I am not a political creature, and admired William F. for his nautical non-fiction, teaching myself how to navigate celestially through the pages of Airborne. I interviewed him once for Forbes on something to do with word processing – he was a geek manqué – and knew Chris from my efforts to put ForbesFYI online. From him I developed the courage to wear pink and green argyle socks and owe him for the introduction to my good friend and former colleague Charles Dubow, now at Businessweek.com.